FT: Staats­schulden und Infla­tion sind kein Grund zur Sorge

Martin Sandbu dürfte wohl der Nachfolger von Martin Wolf als Chefökonom der FINANCIAL TIMES (FT) werden. Seine Kolumne ist schon jetzt sehr lesenswert, wobei auffällt, dass er klar aus einer anderen Richtung als Wolf kommt und mehr an Staat und Umverteilung glaubt. So war es auch kein Wunder, dass er schrieb: „How I learnt to stop worrying about public debt and inflation.“

Geschrieben wenige Tage vor dem Chaos, welches das “Mini-Budget” in den Märkten anrichtete, kam er zu folgender Sicht:

  • Truss and Kwarteng are preparing to throw a lot of money around. (…) It is all rather reckless. But there is one area where I think the carefree attitude displayed by the new stewards of the UK economy has something going for it, which is their lack of worry about the level of public debt.“ – bto: Das ist natürlich deshalb bitte für Sandbu, weil genau das bei den Märkten ganz anders gesehen wurde!
  • But what if Truss and Kwarteng are right on this one? To be precise, what if there is no good reason to think that any particular debt level is too high — and whatever it is, it should be treated with benign neglect? Heretical as that view may sound, there are some powerful arguments in its favour. In 2015, an IMF discussion note, explicitly concluded that in countries not facing prohibitive interest rates, ‘policies to deliberately pay down debt are normatively undesirable. The reason is that taxation over and above the amount needed to fund public spending causes more harm to the economy than the existence of legacy debt. Debt inherited from crises should instead simply be left where it has ended up, and allowed to be gradually eroded by growth.“ – bto: Hier geht es um das Rückzahlen von Schulden, nicht um neue Schulden. Sicherlich ist es richtig, dass man sich schlecht aus Schulden heraus sparen kann. Doch dies bedeutet nicht, dass man einfach mehr Schulden machen soll.
  • And three years ago Olivier Blanchard gave a prestigious lecture to the American Economic Association in which he argued that the financial and welfare cost of public debt was likely to be small if not negative. That need not mean governments should borrow more, but it also entails that it may not be necessary to tighten the public budget for the purpose of bringing down debt.“ – bto: Die Argumentation von Blanchard ist auf bto hier nachzulesen:
  • I would highlight that Blanchard’s analysis was conservative in that it accepts the premise that public borrowing could crowd out private investment. If public spending boosts private investment — by increasing confidence in strong demand or expectations of good infrastructure — that strengthens the case further.“ – bto: Nun, das kann in der Theorie so sein. Die Tatsache ist aber, dass die Politik Schulden macht, um soziale Wohltaten zu verteilen.
  • „(…) there is no “optimal” debt level. What these arguments point to, then, is what in technical terms is called to ‘be chill about public debt levels’. Which is anathema to the EU’s fiscal rules, where the notion of ‘fiscal sustainability’ is central to both their letter and their spirit. In practice, fiscal sustainability is understood by policymakers as a sense that public debt can be ‘too high. But the arguments above should make us rethink whether ‘sustainability’ makes any sense when applied to debt levels rather than budget deficits.“ – bto: Es kann aber nicht irrelevant sein, weil es sonst gar keine Begrenzung der Schulden gäbe.
  • „(…) there is certainly an issue of the financial stability of public debt. New debt has to be funded, and old debt has to be rolled over. The eurozone learnt from its sovereign debt crisis not to take these for granted. But market funding is a matter of interest rates and refinancing schedules, which only indirectly relate to the levels of debt outstanding. And that relation is something a government can influence through prudent maturity management. As an illustration, consider stretching out sovereign bond issuances evenly over 100 years. Even a highly indebted government would never face more than a couple of per cent of output in refinancing. And interest rates could be locked in for equally long. It is a great shame that governments did not vastly extend their debt maturities when interest rates were at rock bottom. But even today, most rich countries face long-term rates below their long-term nominal growth rate.“ – bto: vor allem dank der Inflation.
  • Here is a yet more provocative thought: there may be types of inflation we should also treat with benign neglect. (…) my view is that inflation in rich countries is not driven by excessive demand — which is near normal levels thanks to the strong policies to get us out of the pandemic shutdown of our economies — but by two or three other phenomena. In early 2021, it was the enormous sectoral shift in US consumer spending (from services to goods) that meant goods production could not keep up, especially with supply-chain disruption added in. Since late 2021, it has been Russian president Vladimir Putin’s bellicose squeeze on energy markets.” – bto: Und deshalb soll man nichts dagegen tun? Kann aber dazu führen, dass es einen Vertrauensverlust in Geld gibt.
  • „(…) it cannot be an economically optimal response to shocks hitting output and jobs growth to deliberately depress them even further. But what, then, should one do with such inflation? Maybe — like with debt levels — there is a case for benign neglect here, too. If I am right that trying to rein in this particular type of inflation will only make things worse, then it’s better to leave things alone.“ – bto: Nun werden wir bald sehen, wie die nun schrumpfende Geldmenge sich auswirkt, eine Rezession dürfte unumgänglich sein.
  • But what if — as the best argument for tightening assumes — expectations of higher inflation get entrenched, and that causes inflation to be permanently higher? (…) it depends on how much higher. Take the US. Expectations for inflation three years hence have gone at most 1 to 1.5 percentage points above where they were in the five years before the pandemic; at five-year, 10- and 30-year horizons the increases are much smaller. In other words, the expectations central bankers worry about are for current inflation to come down fast, but perhaps to slightly higher rates than before. Since expectations were consistent with somewhat below 2 per cent before, if these new ones were entrenched, we might be risking a 3 per cent inflation rate. But since expectations visibly follow current price movements, they could likely settle even lower once inflation slows.“ – bto: Das wäre der Fall, den sich alle wünschen, vor allem auch die Finanzmärkte. Ich persönlich bin hin- und hergerissen, gerade in Europa.
  • „(…) it spells out what an alternative to the current policy would be. And given that current policy involves the loss of millions jobs and billions in incomes, it rather behoves its advocates to clarify why they think the alternative of benign neglect is so much worse.“ – bto: Die Frage ist, ob es bei noch zäherer Inflation dann entsprechend stärkerer Eingriffe bedarf, die es dann noch schlimmer machen?